Movie Review: ‘Fatale’

Director: Deom Taylor

Cast: Hillary Swank, Michael Ealy, Mike Colter, Geoffrey Owens, Damaris Lewis

Plot: A wealthy self-made sports agent takes out his frustration with his rocky marriage by having an affair. When he is the victim of a violent home invasion, and this investigating detective turns out to be the same woman he had a one-night stand with, his life is turned upside down.

Review: The term Film Noir is a malleable one. Traditionally it’s referred to black and white, smokey crime films released post-WWII and although the exact look of the style isn’t common in modern cinema there’s been a lasting impact. From Neo-Noir to crime thrillers, the archetypical characters and narratives are replicated and subverted in all manner of interesting ways. That brings us to Fatale, a new movie that leans into the Noir so heavily that it takes its title from the stereotypical femme fatale character.

There’s no denying that Fatale is a noir thriller to the core, from the LA setting through to the corrupt cops and the back-and-forth betrayals. What makes a good noir, on the other hand is a certain deftness in handling the material. You want a script and direction with a degree of nuance, something that will either keep the audience guessing or, even better, lead them astray. It’s difficult for Fatale to invoke these feelings, however, as it’s quick to lay all its cards on the table and then slam their hand up and down upon them to make sure we saw them.

We open with Derrick (Ealy), who we quickly learn has pulled himself up by his bootstraps to build a highly successful company representing athletes, affording him high powered sports cars and an expansive mansion. When communication breaks down between Derrick and his wife, he allows his business partner Rafe (Colter) to convinced him to have an affair in Vegas. Derrick meets Valerie (Swank) and the two spend the night together.

Upon returning home Derrick is the victim of a home invasion, being forced to fight off an armed intruder. When the police detective arrives on the scene it turns out to be Valerie. She, as it turns out, has her own motives for using this hold she now has over Derrick. Before long Valarie calls on him to do her dirty work and proves that she’s more than capable of spilling blood if he’s not willing to play along. From here there’s a snowball of crime and murder as Derrick tries to escape her grasp.

What would make this story work better would be if there’s a stronger air of mystery surrounding Valerie, but there’s no intrigue built up around her character. We learn straight away that she’s manipulative and just when she gains an opportunity to exert control over Derrick there’s the chance to keep her motives in the dark. Instead we get a very jarring perspective shift where we follow Valerie in trying to gain custody of her daughter, something her powerful ex-husband won’t allow. Instead of a shadowy villain whose true motives are hinted at or revealed late in the game, we get everything spelt out for us. It doesn’t exactly draw us into the mystery. Instead of a scheming femme fatale we have a shrieking mad woman.

At the very least the movie is nice to look at. Director Taylor has brought out a rich colour palette of rich purple and greens, making better use of this style as the movie goes on. It’s a solid way to recreate the essence of noir aesthetic in a modern context.

Unfortunately that style is anchored by a clumsy script. We get voice overs from scenes that just happened played over Valerie acting crazy in the shower, presumably because we all have short term memory loss. The cat-and-mouse game between the main characters results in a slasher movie ending complete with someone leaping out with a knife for a jump-scare.

What really fell flat was the very definition of a tacked on ending. For a moment it looks like things are going to end real badly for our protaganist before we cut to black. We’re left wondering if we’re going to be left to wonder if art is going to imitate grim reality, but instead a helpful voice over from some random radio hosts explaining what happened and what the themes are. We’re docking a star just for that.

Rating: THREE out of TEN